Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Four Years Ago

See, four years ago, I was starting another school year. I was not a writer. I was a teacher. A mom. A wife. A video game player on Monday's. (I don't work on Monday's. I seriously owned every Pinata in Pinata Party. Every variation. Every. Single. Thing. I pwned that game.)

Anyway, I wish someone would've told me the path my life would take, because of this one thing that happened. No one did. I was left to wander through the dark for a few months, teaching but not really there, living but not really awake.

Then one day I began writing. And, now, almost four years later, I really wish someone would've intervened to give me just one piece of advice. I'd still write the books I've written. I'd still try to get them published. That wouldn't change. But I think my attitude toward specific aspects of this industry would be different if I'd had someone to tell me back then what I'm still struggling to learn today.

Are you ready?

All books are not created equal.

Sure, when you look at them on the shelf, they might appear equal. They all have covers, and words inside. Stories, characters, plots. These vary slightly: some are long, some are short, some tall, some short. What I mean by "equal" is the amount of push you get from your publisher.

I had no idea this wasn't equal between books. But it's not.

And you know? That's okay.

THAT'S OKAY.

As authors, if you know this, you'll be fine. And by "know," I mean more than "know intellectually, because I read Elana's blog on the matter." I mean "know" like "I know this, and it doesn't bother me, and I'm not going to worry about it. I'M GETTING MY BOOK PUBLISHED." type of way.

It's advice I wish I'd known four years ago when I was still just a reader. It does no good to compare your book to someone else's, because you're already on unequal ground. So don't even try. Don't play that game. It's a slippery slope, and one you'll always fall down.

So, do you know this? If you don't, make sure you do before your book gets snatched up by that agent and that editor. You'll be happier, I'll be happier, and the world will be happier. Maybe. (*wink*)

51 comments:

Pk Hrezo said...

Interesting, Elana. I've never thought about it really, but I can see what you mean. Kinda like life in general. It'll never be fair no matter how hard we strive for it.

Angela Brown said...

This is an interesting post. I've often thought about it...tried to keep from gnashing my teeth when something I wrote made someone think I was trying to be "something-else-esque"...which I wasn't. You've put this thought into a different perspective, just the way it should be.

Thank you.

Jennifer said...

I never really thought about it but now that you mention it I can see how true it is. Why do they do that? Do they feel that one books needs it more than another or is it that they think one is better? Very interesting.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing this. As I watch everyone's journey to publication, I see that this is true. And you're right, it doesn't really matter. All of our journeys in life are different too. Thanks for reminding us of this.

Artemis Grey said...

I love this! And it is so important to hear again even for those of us who fancy that we 'know' it already. I think this publicity topic is similar, in a way, to the 'successfully published' topic - as in all the variations on what you get out of the term 'successfully published'.

For me, successfully published means that my book is successful enough in the market place that providing other factors are aligned, I'm able to continue writing and continue to be offered deals by publishers. To others, successfully published means that they've made millions, and are on the cover of TIme magazine.

Dolly said...

I totally agree. I've known this (not a brag - comes from way too cynical mind, and realistic view of business world, coming from business world myself), and I "think" I'm prepared for it. Of course once it's your book, and your emotions are involved, all the practical knowledge might go out of the window, but we shall see. Good advice, Elana, and I think even for people who "know" it's nice to be reminded that there are others worrying about the same issues.

Anna Banks said...

Wow, did you write this post for me??? Thanks! I'm worried about it. You can't NOT worry. And you can't help but compare yourself to others. And I don't even know what kind of "push" I'm going to get!

But it's natural. The thing I try to remind myself is, I write because I WANT to. Not because I HAVE to. And I would do it with or without a publisher.

So there. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

I think I know this. I think. But because I'm so short on confidence.

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Good post - actually, great one. Comparing your book to everyone else's is not unlike comparing your own children . . . it's a bad idea.

Jen Daiker said...

Lindsay is down right hilarious. I think it's a great philosophy, if you're willing to compare children, husbands, and or animals chances are you'll compare books. Don't do it... They're all bad ideas.

Em-Musing said...

I feel like I write like an alien(is this my voice?)...so there's no one to compare my writing with. Hence some days I feel like my writing is crystal clear turquoise water, and other days it's like pond scum. *sigh*

Michelle McLean said...

I do know this :) Great advice :)

Kelly Lyman said...

Thanks for telling it like it is. I never knew this--great advice.

Slamdunk said...

Good advice Elana. I think having thick skin and overcoming adversity translates well in many endeavors.

storyqueen said...

Very true. I have always wondered, though, why publishers do SO much for one book and basically nothing for others. Don't they want all their books to sell? Wouldn't it make more sense to spread the resources a little?

But there I go, teetering on the slippery slope.

Shelley

Christine Fonseca said...

Intellectually yes. And on some other level, yes. With regards to my NF, yes. But k me again if I ever sell my fiction.

Matthew MacNish said...

What about Viva Pinata? We love that game at my house.

Lynn said...

Thanks Elana for the advise! Hopefully I will remember it four years from now when I possibly will be navigating the publishing world.

Summer Ross said...

This is something I had not thought about yet, but now that you said it- Thank you for the advice. I agree that comparing your own stuff to someone elses is a slippery slope. Have a terrific day!

Red Boot Pearl said...

It's so easy to compare now, prepublished, to say I'm not as good as so-and-so, or I want to write like whoever. I'm sure it gets harder afterward with what goes on the publishing world--time, attention, and push. Thanks for the advice.

Bish Denham said...

I suspected as much from a few things I've read and bloggers I know.

Carolyn V said...

Love the advice Elana! I will keep my comparison button on off. =) Thanks!

Cynthia Lee said...

I knew this. I read it months ago in one of those agent finder books written by a literary agent.

*sigh* It makes absolutely no sense and is incredibly frustrating.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice - I'll try to remember... :)

Stephanie McGee said...

Learning it. That's what's great about having friends further along the path to publication than you are.

Laura said...

I guess the part I didn't know was that it was okay to be okay with it. Which is kind of a big deal. I was starting to feel guilty about my attitude.

Paul Greci said...

Good stuff, Elana!! :-)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yes, yes, and yes. xo

Jonathon Arntson said...

Elana, this is perhaps your most helpful post for aspiring authors (like myself). I have always believed even the smallest idea or thought can create huge changes later on. This post doesn't teach me anything new, but it helps me to look at what I already knew in a whole different light.

Elle Strauss said...

I've been hanging out with published writers long enough to know this is true. It's good to be reminded to keep a level head. Thanks!

Rachele Alpine said...

We're you talking right to me? Thanks for these words! My agent just sold my book to a smaller house, and your words spoke true and were very hopeful! Love it!

Charlotte said...

I was lucky enough to get a two-week intern/work experience thingy at a very famous publishing house, so I found this all out there. Sitting in on a meeting, I heard the people who hold hopeful authors' lives in their hands, discussing the mere pennies they would offer for manuscripts and how their successful authors' books needed to be in the number 1 spot by such and such a time. It was a rude awakening for me that publishing really is a business, with all of the ruthlessness of any other business trying to make a profit. Sigh :(

Martha Ramirez said...

Great advice and I totally agree!

Christine Danek said...

Never really thought about it, but I think I know what you mean. Thanks for the advice. Something to keep in mind.
Thanks.

Rachel Pudelek said...

Charlotte~ I loved the example you gave.

I know this, well I assumed it because I'm a business-type person and I know that normally everything is about money. I just didn't know how exactly it's done. I'm thinking one book gets more PR than another? Things like that?

E.R. King said...

Elana, with all the self-published authors and small e-book presses pumping out books every day, I can't believe all books are created equal any longer. I'll admit, at one point I did, but that was a line I told myself to feel better about wanting to be a writer. You know, all writers want to write a bestseller. Most start off believing they can, and soon that transitions to just wanting to be published. Yet at the same time, not all books are created equal in the big NYC world of publishing. As I was reading your post I kept thinking about what my mom used to tell me, "Life isn't fair." Neither is the publishing world.

June G said...

I became aware of this when I began to get ARCs for review. I noticed how diverse the marketing/promotional plan is. If you're blessed and a publisher anoints your book to be a "big" one, they give it everything they've got. They do everything in their power to make that book sell and those books usually do.

I truly believe that's why particular books debut on the New York Times bestsellers list. Not that the writing isn't fantastic, but so are other books, but those other books don't get the push or attention and wither on the vine.

I have personally heard publishers/editors talk about books before they come out and how they have big plans for them. If you're not the author of one of those books, you may end being midlist and/or buried under the massive amounts of books published every year.

There's really nothing you can do about it. It's out of the author's hands. All the writer can do is write the book that's in them to the best of their ability. Hopefully, the publisher connects with it intensely enough that they're motivated to put big money behind it. That is all...

Charlotte said...

Hi Rachel,
Basically, how it works (to my best understanding of it all) is that the publicity department gets given a certain amount of money for each particular book. So obviously the books with the most amount of money get the best publicity etc.

Caryn Caldwell said...

Excellent point, though I wonder how many people would choose to listen even if they did hear it early on? Sometimes it's easier to ignore the truth.

Janet Johnson said...

You have been comparing yourself to others?!!! You are the queen, Elana. We love you and I really don't think anyone compares. :D

I think it's hard to be okay with something really truly, until you actually face it . . . but I sure hope I will be.

Angie said...

Very healthy attitude, which I am trying to adopt. My new mantra: It's Just a Book.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've tried not to compare, because I knew I wouldn't measure up anyway. I just don't worry about it.
Four years ago, I was just Alex. I still am. Just no one told me about the whole Ninja Army thing...

Heather said...

Excellent advice! So true, there is so much diversity in publishing, and that's a good thing.

Jack LaBloom said...

Comparing books is like comparing shoes. One style doesn't cut it for everyone.

Rebecca said...

You are so right, Elana. I will remember this when I finally sell my first book!

Ishta Mercurio said...

I know! I have enough friends going through the same things you are.

Hang in there, Elana. Marketing and self-promotion are hard, but it's worth the work. I have friends who I've seen learn that, too.

And remind me when I get a contract, too, because even though I know, I'll probably get swept up in the excitement and forget.

Jessica Nelson said...

I've heard it and am prepared for it. I hope yours gets a big push!

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I hope I know this. I think I do, but sometimes there's no way to know how you're going to feel when it's staring you in the face. But thanks for the advice. I don't like to fall down slippery-slopes.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Thanks for sharing your wisdom! I think it's smart to not compare your book (and publishing journey, for that matter) to others.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

You mean the cold fact that big publishers will actively promote a new title for a span of 6 weeks to 3 months and that if it doesn't exceed its sales projection, that's all they do? Kinda sad isn't it?

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love this! And I think I DO know it, in the total sense. In a way it's empowering. It appeals to the scrappy underdog in me. :)

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